PIBS 503: Responsible Conduct of Research

PIBS 503, Responsible Conduct of Research, is taught every Fall term.

In Fall 2023, PIBS 503 will consist of virtual and in-person small-group discussions on topics listed below, facilitated by faculty mentors in the 14 PIBS Ph.D. programs.

Responsible conduct of research (RCR) is the practice of scientific investigation with integrity (NIH, NOT-OD-22-055). RCR is an essential component of research education and training. PIBS 503 introduces graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and other research trainees and fellows in the biomedical sciences to “established professional norms and ethical principles in the performance of all activities related to scientific research” (NIH, NOT-OD-10-019).

Discussion Sessions in PIBS 503

To receive credit for completing PIBS 503, trainees must complete 8 hours of small-group discussions in the following 8 topic areas. Small-group discussion sessions take place at many different times throughout the Fall term, each facilitated by a PIBS faculty mentor. These sessions are not lectures but interactive discussions on various aspects of research ethics. Some sessions are in-person; others are via Zoom. Sessions can be attended in any order. Course materials include case studies, videos, questions, and discussion prompts. 

Trainees must attend sessions on all 8 topics listed below, choosing session times that fit their schedules. Instructions on registering for discussion sessions will be posted on the course Canvas site.

Topic 1: Conflicts of Interest 

  • Professional, personal, and financial conflicts of interest
  • Conflicts of commitment in allocating time, effort, or other research resources
  • Reporting and transparency about potential conflicts of interest
  • Managing potential and existing conflicts of interest

Topic 2: Authorship and Peer Review

  • What merits authorship? Who decides?
  • Who is responsible for what in producing a manuscript?
  • Authorship in interdisciplinary collaborations
  • Rights and responsibilities of authors, peer reviewers, editors/publishers, funders, and  research institutions
  • Responsible peer review
  • Confidentiality in peer review

Topic 3: Data Management and Collaborative Research

  • Acquisition, recording, storage & analysis of research data
  • Ownership and sharing of research data
  • Recordkeeping practices, including paper and electronic notebooks
  • Collaborations: basic-clinical, academia-industry, and international
  • Sharing and ownership of data across collaborations

Topic 4: Research Misconduct

  • Fabrication and falsification of research results 
  • Plagiarism in grant proposals, publications, and other scientific writing
  • Responsible image processing
  • Image manipulation and its role in data falsification
  • Responding to research misconduct

Topic 5: Mentoring Relationships and Power Dynamics in Academic Research

  • Professional roles and power dynamics in academia
  • Understanding power differentials in research environments
  • Abuses and ethical uses of academic power
  • Safe and inclusive training environments
  • What is a useful and equitable definition of “professionalism”?
  • Rights and responsibilities of mentors and trainees
  • Establishing shared expectations; communicating individual needs & goals

Topic 6: Animal Use and Care

These sessions are facilitated by members of the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine (ULAM).

Topic 7: The Scientist as a Responsible Member of Society

  • Human subjects research: definitions and ethical considerations
  • Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)
  • “Dual use” research, whose methodologies, materials, or results could be used to cause harm
  • Societal and environmental impacts of scientific research

Topic 8: Mentor-mentee discussion of research ethics 

Trainees will engage with their faculty research mentor(s) in person for at least one hour, one-on-one or in a small lab group, to discuss: 

  • Ethical considerations that are directly relevant to the lab group’s research subjects and methods;
  • Potential clinical, societal, and environmental impacts of the group’s research;
  • The ethical responsibilities of the lab head and lab citizens; and
  • Safe laboratory practices specific to the shared research environment.

If the trainee is a rotation student, the faculty mentor for this discussion can be a current or former rotation mentor at U-M. Trainees who don’t have a direct research mentor or whose mentor is unavailable should discuss this with their training program director or a U-M faculty member designated by their program director.

RCR Training Requirements

PIBS 503 is designed to comply with U-M’s and NIH’s requirements for instructor-led RCR training. Some U-M researchers, including all doctoral students, must complete instructor-led RCR training (PIBS 503 or equivalent) every four years. In addition, all U-M researchers must complete online PEERRS-RCRS training every three years. 

Note: PIBS 503 and PEERRS-RCRS are not equivalent, and they cannot substitute for each other. See the table below and U-M’s RCR website for more details; check that site for U-M’s complete policy and any updates.

Table: Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship (RCRS) Training*


Funding Sources:

All (Sponsored, Internal, or Unfunded)

Funding Sources:

NIH Training and Career Development Awards

Undergrad and Masters students PEERRS-RCRS Instructor-led  
Doctoral Students PEERRS-RCRS and instructor-led PEERRS-RCRS and instructor-led  
Postdocs, fellows, and residents PEERRS-RCRS Instructor-led  
Faculty PEERS-RCRS Instructor-led  
Staff PEERRS-RCRS Instructor-led  

*Refer to U-M’s RCRS website for all details about training requirements.

Note: Rigor, Reproducibility, and Transparency (RRT) topics are not covered extensively in PIBS 503. For RRT training provided by OGPS, see the PIBS 504 course page.

How to Register


Graduate students:

In Wolverine Access, register for PIBS 503 (1 credit, graded S/U) in the Fall term. All registrants will have access to the course Canvas site.

Postdoctoral fellows, K99/K08 awardees, UROP students, PREP Scholars, those renewing their RCR training, and anyone advised by their program director not to register for the course: 

  • Fill out this online form by September 15th. You will be added to the PIBS 503 Canvas site. Trainees who miss the September 15th deadline cannot take the course in the current term.
  • Do not register for the course in Wolverine Access.
  • There is no fee for this course.
  • You will not receive a grade. The course will not appear on your transcript.

• You can request a certificate of completion from Debra Butler, PIBS 503 Course Coordinator (


Questions about PIBS 503: email
Course Coordinator: Debra Butler
Course Director: Scott Barolo